Fitzgerald had a handle on this place, all those years ago, when he looked through older eyes to see her shores. As his literary avatar “became more aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world,” my own vision shifted to see our current crossroads of a past, present, and precipitous future. Reading the rest of that passage in The Great Gatsby gave me my first handle on living atop this long island off New York that didn’t come solely through snotty rich kids or a small, dying suburban Italian immigrant community. Some of those grandmothers and grandfathers worked the acres men like Gatsby owned, and others from my family fought those wealthy men to keep some of the vanishing green places for the public. Thankfully, parts of the land still whisper out from under their Superfund sites, still guide butterflies and winged things into the arms of returning thickets. Struggling to live here long after the first few waves of industry and greed broke across creeks and inlets now choked with sewage, I hope this place survives us.
We have our houses on the coast out here, and the climate hits us hard. I have taken to putting what few resources I have back into the plants and people who share a sense of responsibility to our spit of land, and to hanging out with one of the last local farmers when I can. His is an oasis in an enclave of crumbling estates and tacky new mansions, and his hens wander the fields that give their eggs a delicious, golden yolk and taste I adore. Farther east, the vineyards have taken over the old potato fields, and the tricky tightrope walk between public and private, tourism and local life continues. We admittedly need money for our ways of life, and yet this land is our lives. In these small and meaningful acts, we’re trying to save what we can for the wildlives and lands that have meaning beyond what humans think of them.